Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Another Year Older

I am reminded this week of how many wonderful friends I have! I celebrated my birthday today and people really went all out this year!

Last night, David and I went running and then stopped for a smoothie at Smoothie King. I thought it was slightly odd that he was moving so slowly, that he sat down at the table in an empty smoothie shop, and then instead of talking he was busy texting. I was slightly thrown off, but still had no idea that anything was up. Then, in mid-conversation, he suddenly asks what Jess and I are doing that evening and if he can come over and eat. Now, usually he asks if we need to stop at the store, but that did not happen this time. So, I think for a second and mention making chicken parmesan since I have all of the ingredients. He was out the door practically before I got the words out. I thought he was just really excited about some chicken parm!

We pull in the driveway and there are two white cars parked there. I knew Kelsey was coming over to visit Jess, but I (with my lack of knowledge when it comes to cars), thought that Marissa's car was actually another one of Jess's friends (her friend Carmen also has a white car). I even told David this when he asked who drove the other car. I open the door, thinking it's awfully dark in the living room for two guests to be there, and even though I see streamers hanging up I'm still completely at a loss because of the following chain of events. I see Kelsey sprawled across the kitchen floor, unable to control her laughter. Jess is looking over her laughing. Marissa is standing to the side, I believe looking slightly confused, but also laughing. Kelsey vaguely says "SURPRISE!" between giggles, while Jess yells "HEY!!!". She thought she had yelled "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!", but they were apparantly caught off guard by whatever had happened. I'm not really sure what Gavin was doing. Well, if you've been to my house, you know that there is a front and a back door to my kitchen. It happens that they were hiding between the island in the kitchen, thinking I would be coming in the front door. When they heard me unlock the side door, they tried to move to the other side quickly, but Kelsey tripped and fell flat on her bum. I only wish I had seen it all happen! :) It was so nice, though, because they had a chocolate fountain, a fondue pot with cheese dip, bean dip, and salsa. Then, Jess pulled out the famous, original Dairy Queen ice cream cake! Yumm! We finished the evening off by watching The Proposal.

This morning, I arrived at work to find my cubicle covered in decorations: banners, streamers, balloons, a party hat and extra large button! Hope and Sara went all out! The office gave me a coffee and a muffin for breakfast. Then Donna shared her favorite "you take a toasted whole wheat bagel, spread some hummus on it, top it with onions, tomatoes, spinach, peppers, and add a dash of salt and pepper and OOOH BUDDY" sandwich! Well, she didn't share HER sandwich.. she let me make my own using her ingredients. I even had a student come in and sing to me just before we discussed his fall class schedule!

This evening, Marissa and Jess took me out to a restaurant I've really been wanting to try: Isabella's. I have heard wonderful things about this Italian restaurant! It definitely lived up to its reputation. We had a bruschetta platter... literally. Tomato bruschetta, artichoke bruschetta, olive bruschetta, roasted garlic cloves, goat cheese wrapped in parsley, and fresh mozzarella. It was delicious! Then, we ordered two meals and split them between the three of us so we can try more than one menu item! They were both really good, but I won't go into those details now! But point is, those girls are just so thoughtful! I love them both! :) Jen- when you asked what I wanted to do most for my birthday and I said "GO TO ITALY!", know that that was the closest I've been in that little restaurant! :-D

The downside is I am now home working on homework, but thank the Lord that I am healthy and able to continue my education. I know it's such a privilege! I do have another piece of my ice cream cake and a cup of decaf coffee, with Michael Buble playing in the background, to help pass the time. And since I cannot bring myself to end with the "downside," I should also say that the "upside" is that my dad sent my gift in the mail and I should be getting it tomorrow. That means my birthday is technically extended another day! I wonder how long I can get away with leaving my decorations up in my kitchen and at the office. ;)

Thanks to everyone who wished me a Happy Birthday! I really appreciate the special part each of you play in my lives!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Awkward Love

Before I receive any credit for the following blog, keep in mind that I did not write this. It was in the book Captivating by Stasi Eldredge. It follows so closely with what I had written about previously regarding friendships, that I could not help but post it here. I hope you find something that speaks to you. For me, the final quote about hell being the only place where you can be free from the "dangers" of love reminds me that although there is vulnerability in loving, not loving has far greater consequences. Here goes:

Honest communication in love is the only way to live and grow in friendships.

There are ebbs and flows. There may be real hurt and disappointment. But with the grace of God firmly holding us, it is possible to nurture and sustain deep friendships. We are designed to live in relationship and share in the lives of other women. We need one another. God knows that. We have only to ask and surrender, to wait, to hope, and, in faith, to love. We must also repent.

For a woman to enjoy relationship, she must repent of her need to control and her insistence that people fill her. Fallen Eve demands that people “come through” for her. Redeemed Eve is being met in the depths of her soul by Christ and is free to offer to others, free to desire, and willing to be disappointed. Fallen Eve has been wounded by others and withdraws in order to protect herself from further harm. Redeemed Eve knows that she has something of value to offer; that she is made for relationship. Therefore, being safe and secure in her relationship with her Lord, she can risk being vulnerable with others and offer her true self.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable . . . The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers . . . of love is Hell. (C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves)

(
Captivating , 181–82)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What am I getting myself into?

So, I have decided to run a half marathon. Crazy? Perhaps.


I have considered it for a while and even began training for a full marathon (26.2 miles) at one point, but I was never really committed to that particular race. It didn't help that the training for that marathon would take place during this past Alaskan-style winter we have experienced. Now, however, it is warming up and at about 70 degrees, it's just perfect! (Keep reminding me of why I'm doing this, however, when it's 80+ degrees and humid!) The most I have ever ran is 7 miles, so I practically just need to double this to 13.1 to complete a half-marathon. Sounds easy! I can handle this! The problem is that I ran those 7 miles back in November. A lot can change in a few months, and though I have been pretty faithful at the gym, it's not the same as running outdoors.


As I tossed around this idea and finally decided to pursue a half-marathon, my friend David asked me the one question that would demand a committment. "Do you want to train for a half-marathon with me?" The fact that I had already made a decision prompted me to say "yes!", rather than "uh, let me think about it." It would have been easy to "think about it" up until it was too late to begin training! Now, however, I'm committed. It's a good thing that I have a lot of determination, because that will be what gets me through to the end of this training! I look at our training schedule and while 3, 4, or even 5 miles seems attainable, I wonder how I will get to the point of running 10+ miles. Or even just 7 miles. Again.


We are using this week for pre-training runs (you know, to get in the habit and to build up to a comfortable 3 mile run), though training official begins next week. It's weird to see the numbers and realize that once we complete training, we will have ran a total of 448 miles in 21 weeks! And since you are technically supposed to replace running shoes after 500 miles, that will be a nice incentive to finish strong! Yesterday, David and I completed 3 miles (comfortably, in my opinion). David was hoping for 6 minutes/mile (only slightly unrealistic :) haha), but our final time of just under 11.3 min/mile is a good starting pace. It was only our second run, after all!


Anyway, there will be times when, undoubtedtly, I will want to give up. Keep encouraging me! I know I can do it! I've got to do it. I'm stubborn and I love the high I feel after a good run. I put on some upbeat music (Kim Walker and Classic Crime are two of my favorite options!) and hit the pavement. It does seem like the first mile is a struggle as I build up to my pace, but once I'm there, I usually feel like I could run 50 miles, easily. Of course, a second later I may want to stop and give up, because all of the sudden I feel that slight pain in my ankle or realize I still have 3 more miles to run! It's mostly a mental game. If I can fight off my anxious thoughts, it will be so much more enjoyable!

I'm sure I'll post more about my running adventures as they come...

Jess

Friday, March 12, 2010

Burdened and Broken

I have to share something that has been on my heart before I explode:

Sometimes our hearts get broken. Of course, this can happen as a result of something done to you, but there are times when it’s broken for those around you and you feel helpless. In the past few years, I have experienced several such situations. These situations involved people that I dearly love. Although they also affected me, more importantly, my heart broke for those directly involved. There were times when I felt so burdened that I barely knew how to function. My thoughts were consumed by these things and I was focused more on what I could do to “fix” things (because I am by very nature a “fixer) than what God could do to bring Himself glory. I felt the need to take on everyone’s burden, because that’s what we are called to do, right? Galatians 6:2 clearly says “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

If you ever think about that command alone, you quickly realize it’s impossible. Carry each other’s burdens? I don’t know about you, but, in my opinion, a simple “I know how ya feel” doesn’t seem to encompass all that this command requires. If a simple, “I know how ya feel” doesn’t cut it, what about taking on the burden so heavily that you are consumed by it all hours of the day? With two very opposing options, is there something in the middle that more adequately describes this command? I decided to look into it a little further. Wesley’s Commentary says that this verse means the following:

“Sympathize with, and assist, each other, in all your weaknesses, grievances, trials. And so fulfil the law of Christ - The law of Christ (an uncommon expression) is the law of love: this our Lord peculiarly recommends; this he makes the distinguishing mark of his disciples” (http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/wesleys-explanatory-notes/).

Sympathize and assist. Love. Walk alongside those that are hurting. Pray for them. Help them in any way possible. Feel sincere compassion. To me, none of that commands us to take on these burdens to the point that we are physically and emotionally sick. In fact, it does not even command that we have to do it alone.

This brings me to the next point: Even when we are burdened by others situations, we still do not have to carry those alone. First, I hope that you, as I have been, are blessed with God-fearing friends that care about you and your struggles and successes. If not, seek them out. Do not settle for superficial friends who only care about what you can offer them. Solomon shares in Ecclesiastes about a man who had gained great wealth, but finally realized that he had been depriving himself of the enjoyment that comes from true friendship and that his work was ultimately meaningless. He states, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:8-10). Friends can come along and help shoulder those heavy burdens by sympathizing, assisting, loving, and praying.

Even better than the first, however, Jesus promises to ease our burdens. In Matthew 11:28, he states “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” For those of you who don’t know what a yoke is, it is a wooden piece that goes around the neck of oxen for the purpose of pulling a plow. Sounds like rather hard work, huh? Think of how hard we have to work when we take on our own burdens and take responsibility for those. How physically and emotionally draining does it become to take on these burdens without any assistance? In light of how hard we have to work in order to do this alone, taking on Jesus’ yoke really is rest for the soul. He does not guarantee it will be easy, but I have no doubt that we can fully assume that it’s a whole heck of a lot easier than taking it on ourselves.

So even through all of these difficult situations, I can still stand and lift my hands and my voice to the Lord in praise, thanking Him for working out all things to His glory. I may not understand all of His ways. I may not fully understand why he allows these bad things to happen. But I can be assured that when I bring these situations to Him in earnest prayer, He hears me. He is working in each situation, even when I cannot see it. He knows my heart and what burdens me.

He knows your heart as well. Will you go to Him with your burdens or try to deal with them on your own? Even when you’re broken to the point of disrepair, will you not take a chance and give your burdens fully to the Lord? What do you have to lose?

To God be the ultimate glory!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Shy or Selfish?

My hope in all of my blogs is to be truly transparent. It's a little scary, because you never know who may be reading it, but perhaps people will see that although I try to act like I have it all together, I really don't. Here goes...

Some of you may or may not know this about me, but I tend to be pretty shy. I’ve actually come a long way since grade school when I did not talk to a single teacher! I am only an extrovert when I force myself to be and I am trying to get better at this. I enjoy being outgoing and meeting new people, I just do not like the awkwardness you sometimes feel when you don’t know what to say or you are afraid of embarrassing yourself.

The more and more I thought about this, however, I realized that it really comes down to selfishness and pride. This is especially true in a church setting. When I see a visitor on a Sunday morning and refuse to go up and talk to them simply because I feel uncomfortable, it’s really selfish of me. I can say this because I have done this many times! I was once that visitor. I, at one time, felt uncomfortable, because I did not know anyone at the church except for one or two people that I worked with.

I spent so much time thinking about how uncomfortable it was for me to talk to people, that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. My mind was so concentrated on how uncomfortable I felt, that it would not tell my legs to walk over and say hi to the person. It’s funny how our minds control so much of what we do. At least this is my opinion. Many of you who know me know that as a counselor-in-training, I agree with many (not all!) aspects of the cognitive-behavioral theory, in which the counselor helps the client confront negative self-talk. Part of my theory stems from 2 Corinthians 10:5 in which Paul tells us to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. This approach guides a counselor into looking at the roots of problems such as anxiety to see what thought processes lead them to these behaviors. I could go into much more detail and explain what parts I agree with and what parts I don’t, in addition to how I believe sin plays a part, but this isn’t the right time for that. I simply came to realize that perhaps I thought TOO much about my comfort level. Maybe I needed to push it out of my mind (not an easy thing to do) and just reach out to those people that I would normally find it difficult to introduce myself to. I needed to put aside my selfishness and pride and humble myself (Proverbs 3:34). Perhaps then it would no longer be about me and how I felt. Instead, it would be about reaching out to others just as Jesus did. We are called to be like Christ, right? Besides, the very title "Christian" means to be Christ-like.

In addition to the mind games, I realized that my desire to meet and, more importantly, to CONNECT with others, should come from a deep rooted, unreserved loved for others. Isn’t this what Jesus taught? The greatest commandment is to love God and to love others (Matthew 22:37-39). Do I really live this or do I try to convince myself that I “feel” like I love others? In my opinion, it’s scarier when we are able to convince ourselves by mere feeling that we love others than it is when we simply confess that we don’t and work on the heart issue. For if we really love others from the heart (even when we don’t FEEL like loving them), then our actions will naturally display that love.

Please don’t think I have it down. Sure, the last couple of weeks God has really gotten hold of me and helped me push through my obstacles in order to reach out to people I would have been afraid to talk to in the past, but it was definitely not because of anything I did. I know I will probably still continue to struggle with this at times, but a few successes help me realize that it is possible to break out of my “uncomfortableness” and seek true fellowship with others. What a joy it is in knowing that I have other people around me that are seeking and following the Lord. Why wouldn’t I want to get to know these individuals? And what am I missing out on by not taking a chance and introducing myself?

Jessica

1 John 4: 7-12, 18

7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. […] 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (emphasis mine)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

How are you, really?

I just took a full dose of Nyquil to try to kick this cold that reared its ugly head today, so hopefully I will make sense and be able to complete my post without falling asleep. Here’s a shot…

Anyway, most people would agree that one of the questions we are most often asked is "how are you?" It's a great question, really. It's open-ended and invites a response; however, most of us still respond with only one word. Fine. Good. Alright. And before the person can ask you to expand on that question, you jump in quickly with "and how are you?" But you don't really mean it. You want to appear interested without actually investing the time required to truly to listen to a persons answer.

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? I am no exception. As much as it annoys me when a friend or acquaintance passes by and asks the question over their shoulder without ever stopping to hear an answer, I find myself doing the same thing. It’s almost like it’s the standard. The norm. The thing to do. But that’s no excuse.

When we look at the example of Jesus, he took the time to build relationships and really find out how people were doing. He spent valuable time with his disciples, he was called a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19), and he showed the ultimate act of friendship by being nailed to a cross and taking on all the sins of the world (John 15:13). I have no doubt that when he asked “how are you doing?” that the person he was speaking with saw in his eyes and heard in his tone of voice that he did not want a lame answer. He wanted the truth. There is no greater love than one man laying down his life for another. Does this mean we can only carry out this command by dying for another? I don’t believe so. Each day we are presented with opportunities to lay down our lives by putting aside our selfish desires and helping out a friend. Serving others. Serving God.

Who’s to say that laying down our life for a moment does not involve setting aside our schedule in order to hear how someone is doing? And in the same way, perhaps its best to just keep our mouth shut if we’re really not going to listen. In fact, you may be the one who reaps the benefits from hearing about the person’s struggles and successes. Perhaps God uses this moment to remind you of his faithfulness through another’s testimony. Or perhaps he uses the moment to remind you that in light of other circumstances, the fact that you are having a difficult day at work is really not all that bad. No matter what he chooses to remind you, the opportunity for a true relationship with that person increases.

It’s time that we shed this fa├žade of relationship and learn to experience true relationships. We must learn to be real with others, or we risk fooling ourselves.

So the next time I see you and I ask, “how are you?” I encourage you to give me an honest answer. It may seem painful at first, but I believe with practice, we may all become better at showing a little vulnerability. And if I don’t seem truly interested, call me out. I can take it. I need it. We all do.

1 John 4:10-12 (NIV) This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.